The Sharks surely had their chances but a lack of intensity on attack and defence saw them slump to a humiliating defeat.
I would venture that the travel factor -after weeks on the road- played a significant role in this lacklustre performance. They started off well in terms of holding onto the ball but there was never intensity as they took the ball up. They looked flat; no speed onto the ball; sort of just going through the steps right from the start and got even flatter as the match evolved. None of that never say die attitude that the Cheetahs enthralled us with last week against the same opposition.
During the early part of the first half (and second half as a matter of fact) the Sharks dominated the possession stats with the Hurricanes having to make almost twice the amount of tackles. However, there was a certain lack of concentration, intensity and team work as evidenced by the constant spilling of the ball, poor decision making on attack and lack of quick support at the tackle ball. They kept losing the ball in the tackle; they were slow in support at the collisions culminating in crucial turnovers; and they opted for taking the ball into contact on numerous occasions when there was actually space outside.
All the above as well as the constant flare-up of tempers indicates physical and mental tiredness. I believe the approach of most teams is to try and win at least one match on tour and secure bonus points in the remaining matches. The Sharks having won their previous match against the Brumbies rested some of their big guns in this match, indicating that they either underestimated the Hurricanes or didn’t mind losing the match.
It was a disappointing performance by the Sharks altogether specially because they looked to be the better coached side. The Hurricanes –as was the case last week against the Cheetahs- scored mostly individualistic tries and has not convinced me that they can actually build constructive tries. The Sharks on the other hand clearly has the ability (to construct tries) but a lack of intensity and concentration saw them bumble numerous opportunities.
One of the Sharks biggest problems in this match was the defence in channel 1. As the match progressed the Hurricanes exploiteded that weakness (poor or slow defence in channel 1) and in so doing were able to break through the Sharks defensive line on a number of occasions with ease, scoring as a consequence some flashing tries without really constructing it through a process of builiding phases and pressure. Lucky packet -almost undeserved- tries made worse by a dubious TMO decision with Conrad Smith’s try. Charl McLeod and Frederic Michalak and the openside flanker were late and as a result mostly ineffective on defence in channel 1.
Another problem the Sharks seem to have is that they run too laterally with the ball in the backline and lack real pace in the back three. Mvovo is the only one in the back three that belongs in this team, in my opinion, the other two not having shown anything to me that suggests that they have the flair and /or ability to create tries or opportunities for team mates. Tim Whitehead (the No12) was the only one who ran straight and showed some nice acceleration and directness, but he was mostly skipped because of Frederic Michalak’s tendency to throw long passes to the outside.
The problem is that Frederic Michalak habitually drifts sideways after receiving the ball from Charl McLeod who also always seems to be running at least 5 steps laterally towards his flyhalf before he passes the ball. JP Pietersen on the outside also seems to favour the outside break, which mostly doesn’t work because the defence has already been pulled laterally by the drifting McLeod and Michalak.
A disheartening week for the Sharks but the result of the travel factor and management (resting) of some key players (I hope).